Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Celebrating Barker’s 75th Year | Creating Families Means Welcoming Everyone

Stan and Sam aren’t their real names, but when they approached Barker several years ago about adopting a child, they proceeded with caution. After they’d decided to adopt, they researched agencies to work with and approached several. But most of those efforts hit a dead end because they were a same-sex couple. They heard nothing back from agencies or nothing very positive when they did get a response.

Contacting the Barker Adoption Foundation changed that: it was the first time since they’d started looking that they felt welcomed, they said. They were interested in an older child and went through the home study and Barker’s 27-hour training for those wanting to adopt through our Project Wait No Longer-Older Child Adoption from Foster Care. When Barker found a child who was a potential match, one of the boy’s social workers asked him what he’d think of having two dads. He responded that for him it wasn’t an issue. Stan and Sam finalized the adoption with Barker’s support, and the three became a family.

All kids need permanent homes. The number of children in foster care nationally jumped more than 10 percent between 2012 and 2018. On average they spend almost two years there; about 13 percent spend three years or more. The longer kids are in foster care, the more likely they’ll experience multiple placements and disrupted relationships, which many studies have shown pose significant challenges for their development and well-being.

LGBTQ individuals and couples are critical to providing forever families for these children. More than 20 percent of U.S. same-sex couples are raising adopted children, compared with 3 percent of opposite-sex couples. Same-sex couples also are more likely to adopt older children and children who are statistically less likely to be adopted. Yet in a study published last summer, a quarter of LGBTQ couples surveyed who were trying to adopt reported experiences like Stan and Sam’s: overt or suspected discrimination by the agencies they worked with.

Those realities, and a commitment to ending discrimination, are why Barker works with couples and individuals of all sexual orientations and gender expressions. They’re also the reason we offer post-adoption services designed for LGBTQ adoptive parents and their children. And they’re our motive in advocating for policies to ensure that both LGBTQ parents and LGBTQ adoptees are treated equally.

Inclusion has always been central to our work, though its definition has broadened over time. In 1994, for example, Barker staff organized a discussion for families on strategies to combat bias against those of diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Today our website offers a platform for families to share strategies for resisting similar kinds of bias toward their LGBTQ members, and our education workshops address the experiences of families with an LGBTQ parent or child.

Our post-adoption services reflect the realities of families of all types, helping address emotional, behavioral, and developmental issues as they arise. That’s why we offer LGBTQ- affirming counseling and other forms of support. Stan and Sam participated in a PWNL support group and got help from a therapist and a Barker social worker, which helped keep things on track for them and their son in the first months after they became a family.

Barker also pushes for equality for LGBTQ parents and children in adoption and foster care systems. We run a professional workshop for family service workers on LGBTQ competency, hidden biases, and how to better work with families and kids from diverse sexual orientations and gender expressions. We also supported new policies in Maryland in 2016 that banned discrimination in the foster care system against children based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Most recently, we’re resisting new federal efforts to discriminate. Last December, we submitted 12 pages of comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services detailing our opposition to a regulatory change that would allow adoption and foster care service providers that receive HHS funds exclude prospective foster or adoptive parents or children based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a June 19 meeting with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Barker’s Sue Hollar and Cynthia Cubbage teamed with Partners and Associates at Wiley law firm to reiterate why the proposal would cost the federal government significant dollars and harm children. We noted that same-sex couples are six times more likely than heterosexual couples, to raise foster children and  the June 2020’s Supreme Court Bostock decision banning employment discrimination against those who are gay or transgender has direct implications for HHS’ plan. We also highlighted that shrinking the pool of prospective parents through publicly sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and couples would cost taxpayers money. For example, youth end up in group homes when there are insufficient foster family homes in which to place them. It costs states seven to 10 times more to place a foster youth in a group home rather than a foster family placement.  Cynthia Cubbage, Barker’s Director of Family and Post-Adoption Services and an adoptive LGBTQ parent of two children, summarized it best in the meeting: “Discrimination has absolutely no place in our child welfare services, and Barker strongly rebukes any attempt at such publicly sanctioned discrimination.” To learn more about Barker’s recent advocacy, we encourage you to review the comments that were submitted to the OMB regarding the proposed rule here

Pride Month reminds us that we can always do more. We’re committed to making our services ever more welcoming. And we’ll continue to fight hard for changes in foster care and adoption that support equality for LGBTQ parents and kids.

Guest Writer: Steven Yoder
Barker Moments